Wednesday, October 17, 2018

A Star Is Born


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Most remakes are usually nothing but mediocre, nostalgic cash grabs. Remakes of remakes are even worse (1980's The Jazz Singer & 2016's Ben-Hur). Remakes of remakes of remakes? Well, we've rarely had any, so we don't know what to expect.

When I first heard that they were doing another remake of A Star Is Born, I met it with some skepticism. When the trailer came out in June, I thought it looked good, although I still felt a bit skeptical about it, since it was the fourth version (fifth if you count the 1932 film What Price Hollywood?). Eventually, after seeing the trailer multiple times, I warmed up to it. And finally, when vastly positive word-of-mouth came from its appearances at both Venice & Toronto, I was almost sure that I would, at the least, think it would be very good.

But I didn't think A Star Is Born was very good. It's not even great. It's an absolute tour de force. Based on the 1937 film A Star Is Born, the film follows Jackson Maine (played by Bradley Cooper), a very successful country singer. Jackson routinely performs to sell-out crowds across the country. His biggest supporter is his much-older brother & manager, Bobby (played by Sam Elliott). Another supporter is his old friend & fellow musician, George "Noodles" Stone (played by Dave Chappelle). However, behind the successful facade is a destructive battle with alcoholism & drug addiction.

One night, after a performance in Los Angeles, Jackson stops in at a gay bar to get some drinks. There, he sees someone sing Edith Piaf's La Vie en Rose. The singer is Ally Campana (played by Lady Gaga), an aspiring singer-songwriter who once worked at the bar, but now works as a cook at a restaurant with her friend, Ramon (played by Anthony Ramos), & still lives with her father, Lorenzo (played by Andrew Dice Clay). Jackson is just completely blown away by Ally's singing. Afterwards, they start talking & spend the night together. Ally confides in Jackson that although people admire her singing ability, some have said she wouldn't make it because she has a "big nose."

Jackson then invites Ally to his next show; however, she declines due to work, much to the chagrin of Jackson & Lorenzo. However, soon after, Ally quits her job, & then leaves, along with Ramon, to go to Jackson's show. When they arrive, Jackson sees her backstage, & then asks her to come on stage to sing a song with him that she wrote called Shallow. Ally is taken aback & is nervous, but eventually comes on, blows away the crowd, & becomes an overnight sensation. Eventually, Ally joins Jackson on tour, & they take their relationship to the next level.

As Ally's career keeps rising, as she is pushed from a country sound to a pop sound, Jackson's career starts to crumble due to his alcoholism. As Ally ponders whether or not her new image is right for her, & as Jackson tries to get help for his issues, they must both figure out how to keep their relationship afloat.

The cast is fantastic. Bradley Cooper is at the top of his game here. Not only can he sing so great, he can also bring the house down with his emotionally-driven performance. He brings so much pain & heartache to the performance to the point where it feels almost completely personal, & not just cinematic.

Lady Gaga is a complete revelation. Not since Jennifer Hudson in Dreamgirls has there been a more commanding acting debut by a singer. Of course, Lady Gaga brings her powerhouse vocals to the role, but she does much more than that. She feels so far away from her real-life persona here that we don't see Gaga, or even Stefani Germanotta (Gaga's real name). We only see Ally, a determined woman who wants the entire world, & she feels so incredibly human in her goals & desires. Just give her the Oscar already.

Sam Elliott also gives a career-best performance. Elliott shows a lot of restraint, & there's one scene where his acting talent is put on full display, where he can break your heart without even saying a word.

The rest of the cast, especially Clay & Chappelle, are terrific, as Clay feels like an admirable person for once, & Chappelle shows that he can do drama just as well as he does comedy.

Bradley Cooper's direction is phenomenal. For a filmmaking debut, Cooper has the visual style & the gritty, emotional feel of a seasoned veteran. He is able to dig deep into his characters, eliciting deep emotions throughout the film. Behind the camera, Cooper is a powerful compound of a Stop Making Sense-era Jonathan Demme, a Million Dollar Baby-era Clint Eastwood, & a Before Trilogy-era Richard Linklater. Altogether, Cooper is just as good behind the camera as he is in front of it.

The screenplay by Bradley Cooper, Eric Roth & Will Fetters is amazing. The plot is very intriguing, & feels completely fresh. The characters feel incredibly real, especially the chemistry between Cooper & Gaga's characters. And the dialogue is just incredible, always tender but never sentimental.

Matthew Libatique's cinematography is astonishing. His framing is just perfect, especially in various close-up shots of the characters' faces, putting their emotions on full display.

Jay Cassidy's editing is excellent. The pacing is especially excellent: a slow build-up in the first half to reflect the rise up for Ally, & then a faster, grittier pacing in the second half to reflect Jackson's downfall.

The sound design is impeccable. It's always a struggle to get the sound levels perfect in musicals, but it's even more of a struggle if they're actually singing the songs live, which was done here. But the sound design team pulled it off, as the vocals & instruments sound absolutely pitch-perfect.

And the music is absolutely wonderful. Every song is filled with powerful vocals & astounding songwriting, &, in my opinion, it's one of the best soundtracks ever made.

This is the best film of the year. It's a powerful, affectionate, soaring, & overall masterful work of art. Give this all the awards that it definitely deserves.

A Star Is Born was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 on Saturday, October 6, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 136 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, some sexuality/nudity & substance abuse.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Venom


★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Sony & Marvel are usually like water & oil: they don't go together well. Both of The Amazing Spider-Man films, while good, didn't have as much panache as the films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Venom, the first entry in Sony's Universe of Marvel Characters, has some good parts, but ultimately fails at being a good superhero film. The film follows Eddie Brock (played by Tom Hardy), an investigative journalist in San Francisco. Eddie is currently engaged to Anne Weying (played by Michelle Williams), an attorney who is working to defend the Life Foundation, headed by Carlton Drake (played by Riz Ahmed).

One day, Eddie is scheduled to interview Drake, but beforehand, Eddie discovers that Drake has been trying to implant symbiotic lifeforms in human hosts, with damaging results. Although Eddie is told to go easy on Drake, he eventually goes back on this order, & finds himself fired from his job, along with Anne ending their relationship.

Six months later, Eddie is completely despondent, & Drake is still continuing symbiosis trials. One day, Dora Skirth (played by Jenny Slate), a scientist at the Life Foundation, comes to Eddie, wanting to expose Drake & asking Eddie to help, to which he reluctantly agrees. While investigating the facility, Eddie is attacked by a test subject, & the symbiote bonds itself to Eddie, who is now being chased after by Drake & his main henchman, Roland Treece (played by Scott Haze).

After some tests done by Anne's new boyfriend, Dr. Dan Lewis (played by Reid Scott), Eddie still has the symbiote in him, & he is the only living specimen with the symbiote. Soon after, the symbiote starts talking to Eddie, revealing itself as Venom (voiced by Tom Hardy). Venom tells Eddie that the symbiotes have come to devour the inhabitants of the planets, but Venom will spare Eddie if he helps the symbiotes do what they came to do. Eventually, Eddie grows to like having Venom inside him. But as another symbiote, Riot, ravages looking for a host, & as Drake continues after him, Eddie & Venom must defeat those who stand in their way.

The cast is great. Tom Hardy has such a fun time doing the banter between Eddie & Venom, & he ultimately makes the film more enjoyable. Michelle Williams does a good job in her limited screen time, & Riz Ahmed is also good.

Ruben Fleischer's direction is inept. Fleischer takes a bland approach to the film, ultimately retreading old ground instead of breaking new ground.

The screenplay by Jeff Pinker, Scott Rosenberg & Kelly Marcel is incompetent. The plot is mostly mediocre, especially the first 30 minutes, & the tone is wildly inconsistent. There are some scenes that do work, mainly scenes where Eddie & Venom play off of each other, but those are in short supply.

And the visual effects are very good. While there are a few moments where the CGI does fail, it does succeed for the most part, especially for a film with a budget that is much less than many other superhero films.

This is an inconsistent & disappointing film. While there are some aspects of the film that are good, they are overshadowed by its faults.

Venom was seen by me at the MJR Partridge Creek Digital Cinema 14 in Clinton Township, MI on Friday, October 5, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 112 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence & action, & for language.

Thursday, October 4, 2018

Night School


★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

Stupid humor, in most instances, never really struck a chord with me. It just seemed like a lot of gross-out humor that was just gross for the sake of being gross. However, some stupid humor I do like, especially the types of humor that Kevin Smith, Seth Rogen, & Dave Chappelle specialize in.

Night School is absolutely dumb & stupid, but it's pretty funny. The film follows Teddy Walker (played by Kevin Hart), a grill salesman in Atlanta. He is in a steady relationship with his long-time partner, Lisa (played by Megalyn Echikunwoke), & he is going to become manager of the grill store when the manager retires. Although Teddy may seem like he has it all, he is financially unstable.

To celebrate his eventual promotion, Teddy takes Lisa into the shop, pulls out some wine, & proposes to her. She says yes. However, as they celebrate, Teddy pops open a bottle of champagne, & the champagne cork pops open a gas tank. Minutes later, the store explodes, & the owner runs away with the insurance money.

Jobless & unable to tell Lisa about his real financial state, Teddy turns to his best friend, Marvin (played by Ben Schwartz), who works at a major financial investment firm. Marvin tells him that he could get a job, but Teddy needs to get his GED, as Teddy dropped out of high school due to struggling to concentrate during the SAT.

Teddy then heads back to his old high school, hoping to charm the principal into giving him the GED. However, the principal is Stewart (played by Taran Killam), Teddy's old classmate who was bullied by Teddy during their high school years. Stewart refuses to let Teddy get his GED, but thankfully, Carrie (played by Tiffany Haddish), the special ed & night school teacher, lets Teddy get in, but Teddy & Carrie are definitely at odds with each other.

Also joining Teddy in night school are Mackenzie (played by Rob Riggle), a bumbling father; Jaylen (played by Romany Malco), a conspiracy theorist; Theresa (played by Mary Lynn Rajskub), a suburban mom with repressed issues; Mila (played by Anne Winters), a hipster; & Luis (played by Al Madrigal), an immigrant restaurant server.

After a few days, the class is intimidated by Carrie's teaching, & feel that they can't pass. So they decide to steal the test results. But this caper will not end well for them.

The cast is great. Kevin Hart shows once again that he's one of the funniest men in film. Tiffany Haddish shows that she's the funniest woman in film. And the rest of the cast pulls out some good humorous performances.

Malcolm D. Lee's direction is very good. Although Lee's direction doesn't have much style to it, he is able to keep the film on an all-humorous level.

And the screenplay by Kevin Hart, Harry Ratchford, Joey Wells, Matt Kellard, Nicholas Stoller & John Hamburg is good. Although the plot is very predictable & the characterization is a bit thin, the humorous dialogue shines through.

This is an ok but funny comedy. Although it is dumb & stupid, it's funny enough to make it into something that's worthwhile.

Night School was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, September 28, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 111 minutes, & it is rated PG-13 for crude & sexual content throughout, language, some drug references & violence.

Blaze


★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I'll preface this review with one statement: I HATE country. It is the worst genre of music that has ever been created. Every single modern country song sounds like, to quote Bo Burnham, "A dirt road, a cold beer, a blue jeans, a red pickup," & it's just way too bland. The only country I like is more folk-based, along with some more country-blues, rockabilly & bluegrass, like Chris Isaak, Townes Van Zandt, & John Denver.

Blaze, while somewhat flawed, is a very down-to-earth & very well-made biopic about an unsung country legend. Based on the 2008 book Living in the Woods in a Tree: Remembering Blaze by Sybil Rosen, & set over the 1970s & 1980s, the film follows Blaze Foley (played by Ben Dickey), an aspiring country singer. Although Blaze is an alcoholic, he is a very caring person at heart.

Eventually, Blaze meets someone with whom he would fall head over heels in love for: Sybil Rosen (played by Alia Shawkat), an aspiring actress. After their courtship goes on for a while, they get married & move into a treehouse in the Georgia wilderness. Although it is a struggle with their relationship when it comes to finances & Blaze's drinking, Sybil nonetheless supports Blaze with his endeavor.

Also at Blaze's side are fellow musicians Zee (played by Josh Hamilton), who is Blaze's best friend, & Townes Van Zandt (played by Charlie Sexton). But as Blaze tries more & more to be a country legend, the more & more his career may fall apart.

The cast is excellent. Ben Dickey gives a phenomenal debut performance. He perfectly embodies Blaze to the point that we only see Blaze, not Dickey. Alia Shawkat also gives a great performance as someone who tries to support someone as much as they can until they can't. And Josh Hamilton & Charlie Sexton provide great supporting performances.

Ethan Hawke's direction is amazing. Hawke throws out the traditional biopic formula in favor of a more quiet yet gritty formula, which works to the film's advantage.

And the screenplay by Ethan Hawke & Sybil Rosen is great. The plot is a bit too aimless & wandering at times, but the characters are so human & the dialogue is so realistic.

This is a very good & different biopic. Although it does wander a bit too much, the cast & the direction power this film.

Blaze was seen by me at the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI on Friday, September 28, 2018. It is currently playing in 2 theaters in the Detroit area: the Landmark Main Art Theatre in Royal Oak, MI; & the State Theatre in Ann Arbor, MI. Its runtime is 129 minutes, & it is rated R for language throughout, some sexual content & drug use.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Life Itself


½★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

I just don't know what to say. Some films can do that to you. Some because of how good they are, & other times because of how bad they are. This is one of the latter times.

Life Itself is a putrid, manipulative, & unintentionally funny mess. Set between New York & Spain in the past, present, & future, the film follows Will Dempsey (played by Oscar Isaac), a hopeless romantic. At college, he meets Abby (played by Olivia Wilde), who he instantly falls in love with. After introducing her to his parents, Irwin (played by Mandy Patinkin) & Linda (played by Jean Smart), Will & Abby get married, & have a daughter, Dylan (played by Olivia Cooke). Also involved in this is Will's therapist, Dr. Cait Morris (played by Annette Bening). But Will & Abby might not be as happy in their marriage as they seem.

Another storyline involves Javier González (played by Sergio Peris-Mancheta), who is hired as a manager by Vincent Saccione (played by Antonio Banderas), a wealthy olive farmer in Spain. They strike up a friendship, & Javier ends up marrying Isabel (played by Laia Costa), & have a son, Rodrigo (played by Alex Monner). But Javier & Vincent come to an impasse as Vincent becomes interested in Isabel.

Eventually, these storylines will all coalesce together in some roundabout way, showing us how life can surprise us at any moment.

The cast is mediocre. Oscar Isaac isn't given much to do besides cry & be mopey, & as much as he tries to do a good job, he ultimately fails & gives a bad performance. Olivia Wilde isn't given much to do either, & she also gives a bad performance. And the rest of the cast gives bad performances. But this isn't all their fault.

Dan Fogelman's direction is awful. Fogelman puts way too much material into this film, basically putting 2 seasons of This is Us into a 2-hour film. And he fails miserably at this. He can't focus on anything, as he bounces between storylines with so much confusion.

And Dan Fogelman's screenplay is a catastrophe. The plot is a mess, killing off more characters than the Red Wedding in Game of Thrones. The characters are nothing but inhuman clichés. And the dialogue is over-sentimental & unintentionally hilarious.

This is the worst film of the year, & one of the worst films ever made. It has nothing of value to it, & we would all be better off if this film never existed.

Life Itself was seen by me at the MJR Partridge Creek Digital Cinema 14 in Clinton Township, MI on Saturday, September 22, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 118 minutes, & it is rated R for language including sexual references, some violent images & brief drug use.

Fahrenheit 11/9


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

It should've never come to this. Our country should not be in the state it is today. Donald Trump shouldn't be our leader. He shouldn't be making a mockery of this country & spouting more & more stupid statements. Our members of Congress shouldn't be supporting the steps he takes & compromising with him. And his followers shouldn't be blindly following him as he leads us to a dark place ahead.

But, unsurprisingly, that's where we are today. Donald Trump is our leader. He lies, makes racist comments, commits treason, & does absolutely deplorable things, making us the laughing stock of the world. It shouldn't have come to this for us to wake up, but I'm not surprised that it did.

Fahrenheit 11/9 is a biting, horrifying, & altogether masterful documentary for our times. The film follows our favorite liberal muckraker Michael Moore as he explores how we got here & how we get out. He starts off with a conspiracy theory that may sound bizarre, but at this time, truth is stranger than fiction. In 2015, Donald Trump is riding high as host of The Apprentice. But something is making Trump mad: Gwen Stefani is making more money as a judge on The Voice than he is as the host of The Apprentice. So he decides to make a fake run for President to get NBC to pay up. However, as Trump makes some asinine statements, he is fired from NBC. But he has a "genius" idea: to continue on in his campaign. You all know what happened next: he denigrated his fellow Republican candidates, then the media, & finally his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton. And not even Clinton could stop him as he won the 2016 presidential election (albeit losing the popular vote), where he only had a 15% chance of winning. 

From here, Moore continues on going after Trump for his creepy demeanor towards his daughter Ivanka, & his commonalities with Matt Lauer, Bill O'Reilly, Charlie Rose, Mike Halperin, & Roger Ailes. But after that, Moore looks more at the system that got us here, starting with Rick Snyder, the Governor of Michigan. In 2014, he decided to build a pipeline from Lake Huron to Flint, & in the meantime, Flint would have to switch over to the water from the Flint River. And here started an event in the poorest city in America that also has a majority African-American population that can only be described as an ethnic cleansing. People died from Legionnaire's disease, & children were permanently maimed from lead consumption. And this still goes on today, as Snyder did nothing to stop it, & even Barack Obama did nothing to stop it, as they all said it was safe to drink, & as the state government falsified the data involving those sick in Flint.

Next, Moore goes on to talk about the egregious sabotage of the 2016 Democratic primaries, where the primaries were rigged in favor of Hillary Clinton & against Bernie Sanders, who was much more admired by the people. Even West Virignia, where Sanders won all 55 counties in the primary, went for Clinton at the Democratic National Convention. Afterwards, 100 million people did not vote in the election, many of them disillusioned by not only Trump, but Clinton as well.

From here, Moore looks at the hopeful future of America, where the young people are rising up to reform our system. Many younger people are running for Congress on a progressive agenda, namely Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in New York. Also, Moore takes a look at the ultimately successful teacher strike in West Virginia, & at the students in Parkland, Florida, where after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, have formed a major organization aimed at stronger gun control in America.

But ultimately, no one is spared in this film: not Trump, nor Snyder, nor Putin, nor Clinton, nor Obama, nor the Democrats, nor the Republicans, nor even Moore himself.

Michael Moore's direction is phenomenal. Moore is firing on all cylinders, both being bitingly funny at some parts, & heartbreakingly sincere at others. He gives us more of what we know he can give, & it's some of his best work.

This is the best documentary of the year. It is an impassioned call to arms, inspiring us all to rise up & do something to improve this country.

Fahrenheit 11/9 was seen by me at the MJR Troy Grand Digital Cinema 16 in Troy, MI on Friday, September 21, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 128 minutes, & it is rated R for language & some disturbing material/images.

Assassination Nation


★★★★★ - A Review by Cameron Kanachki

We live in a society.

The world is nothing short of extremely screwed up these days. Our President is a despot, racists are coming back out of the woodwork, mass shootings plague our country, & many other forms of bigotry still exist.

Assassination Nation is a huge middle finger to all the things that plague modern society, & what a thrilling middle finger it is. The film follows Lily Colson (played by Odessa Young), a normal high school student in Salem, Massachusetts. Lily is usually with her 3 best friends: Sarah (played by Suki Waterhouse); Bex (played by Hari Nef), a trans woman; & Em (played by Abra), who lives with her single mother, Nance (played by Anika Noni Rose), who doesn't have the best reputation in town. Lily is also dating Mark (played by Bill Skarsgård). Besides babysitting the kids of her neighbor, Nick (played by Joel McHale), & secretly texting someone she refers to as "Daddy," Lily is just a regular teenage girl.

One day, things start to turn weird in Salem. Pictures involving Mayor Bartlett (played by Cullen Moss) are leaked to the town. Soon after, pictures involving Principal Turrell (played by Colman Domingo) are also leaked to the town. As the investigation into these major hackings occur, half of the people in Salem get hacked, including Lily, whose friend Grace (played by Maude Apatow) tells her that Reagan (played by Bella Thorne), the head cheerleader, sent some photos of Lily to someone & those photos were hacked.

Eventually, the whole town starts to descend into mass mayhem, including murder, assault, hanging, shooting, torture, & other nefarious acts. Now it is time for Lily, Sarah, Bex, & Em to rise up, defend themselves, & survive the night.

The cast is fantastic. Young, Waterhouse, Abra, Skarsgard & McHale all give great performances. But the standout performance comes from Hari Nef. Her performance is filled with tenacity, attitude & flashiness, & she completely sells it.

Sam Levinson's direction is excellent. Levinson shows all the craziness & carnage with a surfeit of style, & just enough substance to keep it from going off the rails.

Sam Levinson's screenplay is brilliant. The plot is intriguing, the characters are idiosyncratic & interesting, & the dialogue is terrifically biting.

And Marcell Rév's cinematography is spectacular. Rév captures all of the craziness with a keen eye, & there's also a 3-minute long take which is just phenomenal.

This is one of the best films of the year. It's a polarizing film, for sure, but it's one that is a conversation starter, & has some great acting, directing & writing to boot.

Assassination Nation was seen by me at the MJR Marketplace Digital Cinema 20 in Sterling Heights, MI on Friday, September 21, 2018. It is in theaters everywhere. Its runtime is 108 minutes, & it is rated R for disturbing bloody violence, strong sexual material including menace, pervasive language, & for drug & alcohol use - all involving teens.